On Being Heard

Make sure you're heard.

Let’s start off by being clear: I don’t mean getting that horse for Christmas (hey there, parents!). I don’t mean getting the newest iPhone model, even if you think your iPhone 4 is way too slow. I’m talking about getting something that you worked hard for, something that is important to you, something that is not necessarily a physical object. For me, this was addressing the fact that my major (self-designed) is being listed on official documents as, simply, Self-Designed Major.

Well, you might say, that’s exactly what it is. But “Self-Designed Major” doesn’t tell anyone about what I’ve worked so hard to study at my time at Scripps College. It doesn’t tell anyone what I filled my time with between lounging in the Southern California sun and riding horses (and a lot of other things). It doesn’t tell anyone why I self-designed a major instead of following a traditional approved major track at Scripps. It doesn’t describe my passions, because that’s why I self-designed a major in the first place: I wanted to study what I love. I did the paperwork, labored with my adviser to plan out four years of classes, and petitioned the Committee on Academic Review. I had to convince educators that what I’d planned was worth studying. I had to convince them that it was detailed, cumulative, engaging, and could land me a job out of college. Needless to say, I didn’t really do all of that just for the title on a piece of paper, but after it’s all said and done, I want my major to be listed as what it is: Creative Writing for Contemporary Media.

This topic came about when I was showing my best friend that the press release for the spring 2011 dean’s list was out. She was on it for the first time and was extremely excited (she’s one of those crazy people. Yes, those science folk). Her major is very hard, and as a sophomore she was in classes with all upperclassmen and post-baccs. She was one of the few that got A’s. So, understandably, she was excited to see her full name in print, followed by Biology. Once she got over her excitement, she pointed it out: “it’s so lame that they don’t print the name of your major!”

I agreed. I want my major to be represented just like all of the other majors at my college. It’s real, I’m studying it, Scripps has approved it, and yes, after all of that, it’s a major. It has a name, and I happen to like the name. I told my best friend that I’d think about sending an email to someone at the college. Five minutes later, I was typing furiously to the registrar at my school. I wasn’t even sure if she was the right person to contact, but I was going to contact her anyway. I pointed out that self-designed majors are simply named that on official documents, and I asked if that was true of diplomas, as well. I explained my reasoning — I’m proud of my major! — and asked how the policy came about that the self-designed aren’t listed as the names they actually are. Some of them are pretty cool: Writing for Social Change. Motion Sciences. Chinese-American Studies. Art Conservation (originally self-designed and recently approved by the college as a full major. There’s one student taking it, compared to the dozens of students who have self-designed writing majors, which have yet to be approved. Strange?). I finished by telling her that I was sorry if she was the wrong person to contact, and if so, who might I approach on the issue? It was a kind, probing email. I’m proud of it. If you’d told me a year or two ago that I’d be challenging my school out of the blue, on a policy that has been around for a while, I probably would have laughed in your face, or maybe run away from you out of fear.

Well, Scripps. You want me to be a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman, so this is what you get.

I’m still waiting on a response, but I’m eager to see where this conversation leads. As I’ve mentioned before, self-designed majors aren’t the easiest thing to do at school. In fact, it’s about twice as hard to self-design a major than it is to simply follow a track laid down by the school. Since when has it become standard to not recognize the majors for what they are, and how can that be changed? Hopefully my school will, at the very least, recognize and acknowledge where I’m coming from on this issue. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be heard, and the policy will change.

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